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Sec. 4.—Other Acts and Expressions of Jesus, as Arguments against His Sinlessness.
If, then, there is nothing in the facts that Jesus underwent a temporal development, and that He was tempted, which 145compromises His sinlessness, another question arises, namely, as to whether we do not find in His works and discourses themselves, much that is inconsistent with moral perfection. An affirmative answer to this question would constitute the most striking and satisfactory refutation of what has been hitherto advanced. Several things of this nature were urged even by the contemporaries of Jesus. Others have been brought forward more recently. Some of these seem almost frivolous, and scarcely worthy of notice. Yet the removal of even subordinate misunderstandings may be useful, when they threaten to deface so elevated a form as that of Jesus.
Amongst the .scanty traditions of the earlier period of the life of Jesus, has been preserved that account of His peculiar ripeness at twelve years of age (Luke ii. 41-52), which we have already several times brought forward as very significant in relation to His mental development. But there is the appearance of a blemish even in connection with that remarkable circumstance. The boy might be reproached with disobedience, with wilfulness, for remaining behind in the temple. In examining the matter, however, more closely, this apparent blemish vanishes. Not a word hints that His parents looked upon Him as in fault for remaining behind. The exclamation of His mother was simply the spontaneous expression of tender concern. Further, we can easily conceive of many circumstances arising, where the family relationships were less constrained, which might give occasion to the separation, without neglect on the part of the parents, or self-will on the part of the Son. On the other hand, we may discern even in the boy the same Jesus, who, as a man, rising above the narrow limits of family connections, and subordinating everything that was private and peculiar to His vocation, could say, Who is my mother? who are my brethren? and on another occasion could address His mother, Woman, what have I to do with thee? His energies were to be devoted 146 to the whole of mankind, and the spirit requisite thereto must needs have been manifested at an early period.
In the properly Messianic period of the life of Jesus there were many things at which even His own contemporaries cavilled. Scrutinized, however, more closely, they only furnish one proof more of the elevated nature of His moral life. Of this kind are the reproaches, that He did not live ascetically like the Pharisees, nor even like John the Baptist, but ate and drank like ordinary men; that He associated with publicans and sinners; that He broke the Sabbath by healing the sick; and the like. But it was precisely in opposition to such narrow-heartedness that Jesus manifested by word and deed the grand principles of a freer morality,—of that morality which flows from the fountain of Divine love, and which raises the gospel so far above the level of all legal service: precisely then did He take occasion to defend the simple and genuinely human cheerfulness of a truly pious life, which is marred by no spurious asceticism, but receives and uses all God’s gifts thankfully and temperately: precisely then, too, did He propound those simple doctrines, that the disposition is the test of genuine morality; that love is more than sacrifice; that ordinances are for man, and not man for ordinances, and lay them down as eternal truths in forms appropriate to the time.
The evangelists have artlessly recorded many doings of Jesus with that unreflective objectivity which is peculiar to them, without ever thinking that they might give moral offence. It is only the sensitiveness of the modern world that has found them strange. and offensive. Some things of this kind scarcely deserve examination; as, for example, the cursing of the fig-tree.189189 Matt. xxi. 17-22; Mark xi. 11-26. The reproach, that He was interfering with the property of others, is in no sense well founded, and is almost too frivolous to be mentioned. And even the 147notion, that Jesus here manifested personal irritation against a lifeless object, disappears as soon as we remark that He was performing—and that too, undoubtedly, with perfect self-possession—a work of prophetically instructive import, designed symbolically to announce the destruction of the spiritually unfruitful Jewish people. There are other things which do in part present real difficulty, and therefore demand a more careful consideration. With greater apparent justice might Jesus be accused of interference with the rights of property in that noteworthy act in the country of the Gadarenes,190190 Matt. 28-34; Mark v. 1-20; Luke viii. 26-39. where it cannot be denied that the cure performed by Him was directly coupled with damage to the inhabitants of the district. Almost all commentators on this passage. have believed it necessary to offer an apology for Jesus and naturally this has been done in various ways, according to the different points of view of the writers. We should hesitate to excuse Jesus, as many recent commentators have attempted to do, on the ground of His not foreseeing the result;191191 Hase, Leben Jesu, third ed. § 75, p. 184. for this is at variance with the idea which the evangelists give of Him. And, on the other hand, we might justly urge that Jesus acted here, as He did generally in His miracles, as the Plenipotentiary of God. When God, in the pursuance of higher aims, destroys single things, when He permits the destruction of human possessions by natural forces, who dare charge Him with injustice? The complicated system of the universe requires it, and particular occurrences are ordered on the plan of a wisdom which is beyond our comprehension. Jesus also stood .on this position of higher wisdom and authority and whoever objects to His acting out of the fulness of Divine right, can hardly justify. Him in a manner that will harmonize with the general representation of the Gospels. But it has been urged, and not 148altogether without reason, against this mode of treating the question, that it lies out of the proper sphere of an apology, whose business it is to justify Jesus according to the general laws of human action. We take our stand, therefore, entirely on the ground, that Jesus, on this as on every occasion, was fulfilling His mission; not indeed without foresight of the consequence of His acts, but without suffering Himself to be influenced thereby. The aim of that mission was to save the lives and souls of men; and the possible destruction of irrational creatures, or the contingency of a loss which might be replaced, could not possibly restrain Him therefrom. Nay, His conduct on this occasion rather serves to place in a clearer light the high value which Jesus attached to man as the image of God.
But if we are not justified in regarding Jesus as under the influence of passion when He cursed the fig-tree, there is another occurrence recorded by the evangelists, in connection with which we can scarcely avoid such a supposition,—namely, the driving out those who were buying and selling in the temple.192192 Matt. xxi. 12-17; Mark xi. 15-19; Luke xix. 45, 48, compared with John 14-18. It is even possible to describe it in such a way as to give it the appearance of a low and violent action.193193 As Pécaut does in very strong terms, p. 252. There is, however, nothing to authorize such a delineation; for it was certainly not the employment of external chastisement or threats, but His holy earnestness and personal dignity, which gave to the action of the Lord Jesus its impressiveness and efficacy. Their feeling that He was in the right, and they in the wrong, drove the traffickers out of the temple. Notwithstanding, there do remain traces of angry ebullition in the act, which contrast with the usual mildness of Jesus. The disciples themselves were sensible of the presence of a devouring zeal in His conduct on this occasion.194194 John ii. 17. But here 149the distinction must be observed between personal passion and the noble anger felt by one entrusted with a high calling. It is not as a Jewish Rabbi that Jesus stands opposed to these Jewish traffickers, but it is as the divinely appointed Purifier of the theocracy that He stands opposed to the desecration of the sanctuary of God; and this position gave Him the right to act in a way which need not be justified according to traditional rules. Even if the doubtful jus zelotarum were recognised, it would not be necessary to appeal to it in order to clear the conduct of Jesus from blame. ‘He was wielding that power of chastisement which is truly connected with the office of Prophet,—that power which has been and should be exercised in all . ages and among all peoples by higher natures called with such a vocation, whenever earthly relations and the course of justice, according to existing laws, are unable to stem the growing corruption.’195195 See Lücke’s Commentary on this passage, Pt. i. pp. 536, 537; and Dorner’s Jes. sündl. Vollk. p. 17, note 1. Such an action, however, could never have been performed but under the influence of an overpowering earnestness and an intensely indignant zeal. Such zeal for the Divine honour is, however, not unworthy of the purest; and in periods of corruption, nothing that is truly great can be accomplished without it.
The relation between Jesus and Judas also offers peculiar difficulty.196196 Compare on this relation, and the different modes of conceiving it, Dr. Gust. Schollmeyer’s Jesus and Judas, Lüneberg 1836. See also Neander’s Life of Jesus, fifth ed. pp. 192, 679-689; and Hase, Leben Jesu, § 110, p. 182 ff. third ed. If Jesus knew Judas, why. did He enroll His future betrayer among the apostles? And if He did not see through him, what have we to say on behalf of the moral penetration of Jesus? In either case, did not Jesus here make a mistake? In giving a satisfactory answer to this question, all depends on our conception of the moral condition 150of Judas when called to association with Jesus. Substantially, there are three different views of this matter possible, each of which leads to a different solution of the difficulty. According to the first, Judas, at the time of his acceptance by Jesus, had already within him the germs of his after sins—ambition and covetousness, but the good was still predominant in his soul; and further, Jesus hoped to accomplish his complete renovation, and then to avail Himself of the strong nature of Judas as an able instrument for the advancement of His cause, but was foiled in His gracious intentions.197197 This hypothesis is carried out in a manner correspondent to the state of theological science at the time of its publication, in the Essay entitled Wie könnte der grosse Menschenkenner Jesus einen Judas zum Lehrer der Menschheit wählen? See Augusti’s Theologische Blätter, B. i. pp. 497-515. According to the second view, Judas, when he came into contact with Jesus, had already fallen irrecoverably a prey to evil;198198 This is Daub’s conception of Judas in his Judas Ischarioth, oder, über das Böse im Verhältniss zum Guten, Heidelberg 1816: See especially No: I. pp. 16-20. Judas is there described as the evil which has utterly cast off all humanity, as a devil in the flesh, who becomes the betrayer of the incarnate God, and in whose (predestined) despair there was no stirring of good. Not quite the same, yet similar is the view of Olshausen. See his Biblical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 438 ff. (German ed.). and Jesus chose him, not only with the distinct knowledge that he would be, but—since it was necessary that treachery should bring to pass the death of the Redeemer—also with the intention that he should be, His betrayer. He chose him, moreover, that in him a most striking example might be given how even one so utterly corrupt could but subserve the execution of the Divine purposes. According to the third view, when Judas was called to be an apostle, evil was, indeed, already predominant in him, but not absolutely supreme. His proximity to Jesus might influence him for good or for evil, and it was worth while to make the attempt to recover him. If Judas were gained to the side of the good, he would prove one of the most powerful of the 151apostles; if he were lost, he must still of necessity serve the plan of Jesus. Jesus was prepared for any issue He saw, even at an early period of their connection,199199 The expression ἐξ ἀρχῆς, John vi. 64, need not necessarily be referred to the period before, or to the exact time of, the call of Judas. It means, as in John xvi. 4, in the first period, soon after he was chosen, and long before he manifested his real disposition in the act of betrayal. how Judas would decide; but He did not then cast him out, partly because He would act towards him with the utmost forbearance, partly because the proximity of Judas, even in the case of his yet deeper fall, would answer His further purposes.
The first of these views not only supposes that Jesus was deceived, which is irreconcilable with the depth and acuteness of His penetration, but rests also on a misconception of the true nature of moral development. In order to reach the degree of evil at which we find Judas, its influence over him must have been for a longer period growing stronger and stronger, and working its way into all the parts, into the very tissue of his being. Had he entered into the fellowship of Jesus with a predominant susceptibility to good impressions, the result would have been different. Moreover (and this is decisive), this view clearly contradicts the declaration of John,200200 John vi. 64, 70. that Jesus knew the traitorous designs of Judas even at the earliest stage of their intercourse. The second view rather cuts than unties the knot. It considers the matter only in its relation to the end aimed at, whilst primarily it ought to be examined from the point of view of the determining cause; it makes a leap from the region of the historical to that of the metaphysical, and explains the obscure by that which is still more obscure: it further supposes a degree of wickedness in Judas that strips him of everything human, and this notwithstanding that his repentance, although perverse in its operation and results, testified to some 152remains of goodness,—notwithstanding, too, that even his violent and desperate death exhibited traces of his former greatness. Finally, it assumes that it was necessary that a member of His most intimate circle should betray Jesus, which does not by any means seem to have been the case when we bear in mind the publicity of His life.
The first two views being untenable, only the third remains for our adoption. This has also its difficulties, but will be justified by the remarks which follow. It was the destiny of Jesus, in His entire manifestation, to divide the Divine from the ungodly, the good from the evil,—to awaken and quicken the one, and to punish and spiritually overcome the other. Even whilst on earth, He thus manifested and judged the hearts of men. In and through Him were the thoughts of the heart to be revealed: He was to be for the rising again and the fall of many. Either of the two results, considered in itself, might have followed in the case of Judas. He was still a man, and, as such, capable of salvation: he might fall, but he might too, like Peter, rise again—a ray of holy love might yet penetrate his soul. That this would not take place, was not clearly to be foreseen; for evil, being in its nature arbitrary, its development cannot be calculated with certainty. Looking to the possibility of a change for the better, Jesus chose him. But by an act of wickedness, which is at the bottom as incapable of rational explanation as evil generally is, Judas hardened himself, even whilst in communion with the purest goodness. Thus that Divine love which might have saved him, only worked his destruction. And just as all evil must finally serve the good, so Judas, when the process of hardening had once set in, was compelled to further the ends of Jesus. In contrast to the purity of Jesus, he exhibited sin in all its abominableness; and by bringing about the catastrophe of the death of Jesus, he helped on the accomplishment of the work of redemption. Through him 153it became possible for Jesus to enter into the suffering of death, without seeking it Himself. Finally, too, by his own desperate death, he testified to the purity of Him whom he had betrayed. In all this, however, we must not seek the end, the reason, but only the result of the choice of Judas by Jesus. The choice was dictated by the motives indicated above, and these cannot but be acknowledged to have been pure, since they were based on the hope of the salvation even of a Judas.
But it is finally and almost triumphantly asked, Did not Jesus Himself decline the predicate ‘good,’ and thereby deny His sinless perfection? Did He not answer the young man who saluted Him as ‘Good Master,’ with the plain words which it is impossible to misunderstand, ‘Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God?’201201 Matt. xix. 17; Mark x. 18; Luke xviii. 19. What more can be needed than the testimony of Jesus Himself against the notion of His sinless perfection?202202 See Strauss, Glaubensl. ii. 192; Fritzsche, Comment. de ἀναμαρτ. Jesu, ii. 1, p. 7; and Pécaut in his above-named work, p. 268. Among modern expositors the contrary view will be found advocated by J. Müller, Lehre von der Sündl. i. 143, and Dorner, Sündl. Vollk. p. 12; also Wimmer in the Theol. Studien und Kritiken, 1845, pp. 115-153. To this we reply: It is indeed true that Jesus did decline the predicate ‘good,’ but not in such a sense as to exclude the idea of His perfection. His words have a totally different tendency; and here, as in other instances, everything will be found to depend upon the occasion which gave rise to them, and the connection in which they are found.
The young man who accosted Him, believed, as the sequel shows, that he had already fulfilled the whole law, and was under the delusion that in this respect he lacked nothing. He wanted to learn from Jesus, as from a master undoubtedly capable of instructing him, what exceptionally ‘good thing’ he must do to obtain, besides the blessings promised by the 154law, eternal life. Can it then be supposed that Jesus would have responded to a young man of this kind,—one who used a word so full of meaning as ‘good’ twice in one breath, in so light and thoughtless a manner,—by imparting to him information concerning the moral constitution, and indeed the moral imperfection, or even the sinfulness of his own person? It is evident that instruction very different from this was needed by the young man. With all his good intentions, his whole moral nature was infected with self-complacency and shallowness. What he lacked was self-knowledge, acquaintance with the Divine holiness and his own sinfulness. This Jesus perceived from his words, and it was towards this end that all which He said to him was directed. And first of all He takes up his just uttered salutation, ‘Good Master,’ and at one mighty stroke, as it were, shows him, in the most forcible manner even though for the moment He might not be fully understood by His hearer—the fathomless depth, the immeasurable fulness, contained in that little word ‘good.’ God alone, says the Lord, is ‘good;’ but what He more specially meant by this, must be determined by the meaning of the expression ‘good’ in this place; and when we reflect how it was used by way of contrast to its inconsiderate application by the young man, and take into account the entire character of this address, this meaning can be none other than the most pregnant of which the term is susceptible.
Undoubtedly there is a sense in which goodness can be attributed to God alone, and another in which it may also be applied to man. The first is its absolute sense; and that this is the sense which it bears in the passage in question, is obvious so soon as the whole purport of the saying is considered. In this sense God is good, as the eternally perfect and unimpeachably holy One who can be nothing else but good Himself, and is at the same time the original source of all good in others. But if Jesus, by this intimation, would 155exclude all that is not God from goodness, there are two things which He certainly would not do. He would neither, as older theologians suppose, indirectly allude to His own Divinity,203203 As also Stier, among recent theologians, though he rather hints at than expressly advances such a view, Reden Jesu, Pt. ii. p. 282. nor, as more recent ones assert, represent Himself in general terms as not good, and consequently sinful. The first notion would be an allusion of too vague and artificial a nature; the second a self-contradiction of so glaring a kind, as no one would venture to put into the mouth of Jesus.204204 It is opposed not only to John viii. 46, but even to John x. 14, and other passages. On the other hand, He undoubtedly did intend to reject the attribution to Himself of goodness in that absolute, that purely Divine sense, of which we have spoken. And not without reason. For His moral perfection did not appertain, as that which was purely Divine, to the sphere of eternal being,205205 Such a τελείωσις as is spoken of in Heb. ii. 10-18, v. 7-9, and elsewhere, with reference to Christ, cannot be attributed to God, who is in and by Himself absolutely τέλειος. but to that of temporal existence; His goodness was not, like the Divine goodness, absolutely unexposed to temptation. and raised above all change, but a goodness capable of development, and to be perfected by temptations, conflicts, and sufferings. He was as yet in the very midst of His great mission, and the heaviest trials and sufferings still awaited Him. Thus viewed, the expression by no means excludes the perfection which is possible within the sphere of human existence. It only declines an attribute which is absolute and Divine; it does not deny that the moral nature of Jesus is sinless, but it does affirm that it is liable to temptation. We have here the testimony of Jesus Himself to His genuine and proper humanity in a moral point of view, and a noble expression of the humility which knows that the victory has not yet been won, as contrasted with the self-complacency 156which could inquire, ‘What lack I yet?’—but by no means a confession of sinfulness.
We have thus, we trust, solved all the graver difficulties offered by particular occurrences.206206 The instances derived from John vii. 8, 10, and from Luke xxiv. 28, are too trifling for detailed discussion. In the first passage the difficulty disappears if οὐκ is taken, as in John vi. 17, in the sense of οὔπω in the second, if προσεποιεῖτο is referred not to the intention of Christ, but to the impression which the disciples, who were His fellow-travellers, received from His conduct. Yet a few more general remarks seem desirable with reference to the French author,207207 Pécaut, in his already frequently quoted work. For a review of the whole treatise, see Waizsäcker in the Jahrb. für deutsche Theol. vi. 1, pp. 178, etc. who has of late most strongly insisted upon them. This author occupies a very peculiar standpoint. He desires to appear, not as decidedly opposing, but rather as seriously doubting, the sinlessness of Christ. Yet his questioning points far more to a negative than an affirmative reply. On one side, he not only willingly acknowledges, on the ground of the Gospel delineation, the peculiar moral greatness of Jesus, but often speaks of it even with enthusiasm, and adheres, after his own fashion, to the belief that He was a teacher of the very highest excellence.208208 Pécaut’s above-named work, Letter xvii. pp. 244, 247, etc. On the other side, he sees between this relative greatness—even granting it to have attained the very highest degree—and absolute perfection, an abyss209209 The same, pp. 241, 242. which his faith cannot pass. He is hindered partly by the consideration that the moral nature of Jesus is not laid open to us as to the inmost motives of His heart, nor during every stage of life,—partly by a regard to certain actions and expressions which seem to place insuperable difficulties in the way of admitting His sinless perfection.210210 The same, Letter xvii. p. 237. We cannot regard such a standpoint as 157tenable. If we once go so far as to admit that the moral greatness of Jesus is of so superlative a kind that nothing surpassing it is to be found within the sphere of human nature, and if we do this on the ground of the Gospel delineation, we shall be constrained to take the further step which leads to a belief in His sinless perfection. For the same Jesus whom, from the Gospel statements, we acknowledge to be so great, is He who, in the same documents, constantly attributes to Himself a moral and religious nature and position which we—in the sense which He Himself furnishes—designate no otherwise than as absolutely perfect. If, however, we either cannot, or will not, take this step, we have no choice but to retreat from our former position, and, by relinquishing the historical ground of the Gospels, to declare the general greatness of Christ to be altogether doubtful. In short, if Jesus, as we know Him from history, is as great as Pécaut admits, He is also perfect; but if, according to the given conditions, He is not perfect, then He is not truly great in any sense: the greatness ascribed to Him dwindles to such a degree, that it becomes altogether inappreciable.
With regard to the difficulties offered by certain particulars, we are certainly not of opinion that they are at once to be disposed of; on the contrary, we have done our best to solve them. But even granting that neither the explanations which we or others have offered should be found sufficient to obviate all objections, does it follow that the sinlessness of Christ must be given up, or even regarded as utterly problematic? By no means. For the sinless perfection of our Lord is no individual view or sectarian tenet, no hobby of this or that theologian, but the firm persuasion of all Christendom in every age,—a persuasion arising from the overpowering impression produced by His whole life and character. A persuasion of so universal a kind, and one 158confirmed by its effects, will not be given up, like some doubtful hypothesis, because difficulties are encountered in certain obscure passages, which it is not easy to solve, or whose solution by others is not deemed satisfactory. In a phenomenon of such unfathomable depth, of such immeasurable greatness, as the personality of Jesus Christ, there must necessarily be, from the very nature of the case, points which will ever be enigmatical. Divine truth could not be such if it were in all respects on a level with our understandings, and presented no paradoxes to our minds. In the case of such phenomena in general, we must, first of all, abide by the unquestionable impression produced by the whole, and thence endeavour to appreciate and understand particulars. In the case of Scripture especially, we must not make what is obscure the standard of what is more clear, but, on the contrary, must determine the meaning of the less comprehensible by that which is plainer. If these rules are granted, their result in the present case is obvious. The testimony of Scripture to the sinlessness of Christ is as clear as noon-day, while the purport and references of those passages which might excite a doubt of it, are by no means so transparent as to justify us in taking them as our criterion in deciding on the moral character of Jesus.
Our opponent repeatedly insists upon the axiom,211211 E.g. p. 255, and often, besides, in individual instances. that the conduct of Jesus is to be estimated only according to ordinary moral standards, and not according to some superhuman. code. This he applies to certain expressions and requirements of Christ, especially to His address to His mother, on the occasion of His first miracle, His saying to the Canaanitish woman, and His command to the disciple, who desired first to bury his father,212212 John ii. 4; Matt. xv. 22-28; Luke ix. 59, 60. See in Pécaut, pp. 257, 259, and elsewhere.—which he finds unnecessarily harsh 159and severe. Our reply is as follows:—If this axiom is to be so understood as to include those moral principles which were first introduced into the world by Christianity, it is not in itself incorrect. It becomes so, however, if these principles are excluded, and only an abstract general morality left. And this is the manner in which Pécaut holds it. He everywhere ignores that mission of Jesus which can never for a moment be separated from His Person. In all these cases, indeed, the Lord Jesus spoke and acted, not as some chance individual usurping undue authority, but as one undoubtedly certain of being the Founder and Head of the kingdom of God. What He said or did in this sense, always bore the distinct impress of a regard both to the stage of development which this kingdom had at the time reached, and to the special spiritual necessities of the individuals in question, whose faith might need to be encouraged, to be tested, or to be guarded against relapse, by means more or less vigorous, nay, even sharp;—not that such a regard could indeed alter the general principles of morality in His case, though it might give to their application that form which the nature of the kingdom of God demanded. Now the fundamental law of this kingdom is self-denial and self-renunciation,—its chief requirement, that it should be regarded as the supreme good, with which none other can stand in competition. To such a standard, and to such a standard only, did the Lord Jesus conform His demands, and by it was a sharper line of action prescribed to Him, with all His gentleness, in certain cases, than would have been becoming to an individual in a more ordinary position.160
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